Thoughts on the messy struggles with teens over social media

Thoughts on the messy struggles with teens over social media

When I was 12, my biggest issue with phones was whether the cord was long enough to reach from the kitchen to my bedroom. Oh, how times have changed.

According to research conducted by Common Sense Media, in 2015 the average teenager with a smartphone spent four hours and 38 minutes a day using it. Almost two hours of that time was spent on social media.

It’s no wonder that when parents of tweens or teens get together for coffee, you often hear snippets of conversation like this:

“‘That’s it,’ I told my daughter. ‘No more Snapchat.’”

“When I saw what the girls were texting my son, I was horrified.”

“I looked at my daughter’s Instagram account and asked her: ‘Who is this creep following you?’”

Here we are as parents, trying to provide parameters around a smartphone-based adolescence that none of us experienced.

My social media story

I’ve been curious about kids and technology ever since I earned my master’s degree in Educational Administrative Technology.

As a young adult fiction author, I have invested substantial time into building up my social media platform: 21,000 followers on Facebook; 19,500 followers on Instagram; 11,000 followers on Twitter. I share those numbers only to show that I’ve studied this issue intently.

This sticker by @beetifulbooks is hilarious! ? I bought it even though it doesn't apply to me. These days, I am writing on an #Alphasmart Neo, usually while my son is at his guitar lesson or my daughter is with her #dyslexia tutor. No ??? involved! Only ☕. – What makes the Alphasmart so great for writers, is that it's not connected to the Internet. There are no distractions! Also, it increases word count productivity because although you can edit on the Alphasmart, it's not easy. That prevents my inner-editor from slowing me down. – When I get home to my computer I plug the Alphasmart into the keyboard slot, and it dumps the file into Microsoft Word. Easy-peasy. – Unfortunately, they don't make these anynore. I bought mine used for $40. . . . . . . . . #bookstagram #ireadya #writers #writerslife #aurhorslife #aurhor #youngadultbooks #theyagalshoutout #yalovin #bookmerch #zazzle

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My Twitter and Facebook accounts have the coveted blue check, which is something almost every teenager I’ve met recognizes as significant, but prompts most adults to wonder, “Huh?” The blue check means my accounts are verified, and verification helps protect public figures from impersonation.

As a parent, the way I handle social media and my children is rather strict. I never post pictures of my kids on any of my accounts, not even my private ones, nor do I mention their names. I do this to protect their privacy, and also because when they are old enough to use social media I want them to begin with blank slates.

But at the same time, I have been training my son to be social-media savvy since he was 9 years old. Sometimes I hand over my phone and let him heart on Instagram for me, or ask him to create memes for my Facebook page. We have deep discussions about monetization and YouTube.

My son is on the cusp of turning 12 and itching for an iPhone. I told him that once he earns First Class in Boy Scouts his birthday wish will come true, but that his own social media existence will probably come later.

I’m sure that arguments about screen time, data usage and cracked screens are all in our future, but I know that he is crystal clear about privacy protection because he has spent time being my apprentice.

Safety strategies

The easiest way I have found to stay safe on social media is to use a strategy I call The Fortress. The Fortress is built on setting your profile to private. Nobody can access your social media unless you let them in. The privacy setting is like a giant wall guarding your security. The main danger is if you accept a friend request from a stranger. That breaches your walls.

If my kids choose to use The Fortress as their safety strategy someday, I will need to actively monitor their follower lists and look for unknown names. I’ll ask questions like “Who is this person? How do you know him? Are you friends in real life or just online?”

If they don’t let me follow them, then I’ll take their phone away, since I’ll be the one paying the bill. Leverage, baby!

A more advanced plan for social media safety is the Clean Your Room strategy. I coined this name after watching a tween’s YouTube video staged in her messy bedroom. That image of her as a slob is now attached to her social media footprint forever.

The number one goal of Clean Your Room is to not be stupid. Turn your location tags off. Don’t post unflattering pictures of yourself or your friends. Don’t use language you wouldn’t say on television. Don’t share details you don’t want weirdos to know. If you film a YouTube video in your room, you better make that IKEA furniture look like it came straight from Pottery Barn.

With the Clean Your Room method, it’s OK to set your privacy profile to public because you’re not sharing anything that could harm you. If my kids choose to use this strategy, they won’t need to accept my friend request because everything they post will be out in the open and easy to monitor.

Beware of trolls

No matter which social media safety strategy you choose, it’s essential to learn how to deal with trolls — anonymous users whose posts online are meant to upset others so that an argument ensues.

Never let the hurtful comments of a random stranger bother you. Report, block and delete jerks. My son has practiced troll-management in Minecraft for years and is skilled at getting hackers banned.

Each social media platform is different, but most of them make it easy to fight back. On Instagram, you click on the three dots and choose “Report.” On Twitter and Facebook, you choose the down arrow.

Beyond Facebook

The research from Common Sense Media says that in 2015 most teens were consuming media, not creating it. They were more likely to read articles, share memes, or watch YouTube videos than they were to blog, design memes or start their own channel.

This means that teens who create content are special, even if their parents are terrified of their babies becoming internet-famous.

Our world is changing rapidly. Consider how President Trump interacts with people on Twitter. All of a sudden business and labor leaders who previously cared little about their social media skills are now forced to become aces.

It’s possible that a decade from now everyone will be judged by how strong they are on Snapchat. Already, careers in marketing, sales and public relations require social media heft. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that future job applications will ask people how many followers they have.

For me, the scariest part of social media isn’t strangers, it’s friendships gone wrong. The best privacy strategy in the world can’t protect us from cyberbullying, inflamed discussions or the pain of unfriending. There is no fortress strong enough or room clean enough to protect us from broken hearts.

As my son’s 12th birthday approaches and I scan the newspaper for iPhone ads, I worry about him entering the world of hashtags and snap streaks. I wish I could go back in time and give him a Bell telephone instead.

Thanks a lot, Mark Zuckerberg, for all of this social media angst. I take comfort in knowing that as soon as your kids become teenagers, you’ll face this parenting struggle, too.

Jennifer Bardsley is author of the books “Genesis Girl” and “Damaged Goods.” Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal.

Know the rules

According to their terms of service, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat require users to be at least 13 years old. When these platforms catch a user violating the terms of service, the account is deleted.

Find out more

Look up the data on Commonsense Media, host a screening of the documentary “Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age” or investigate digital citizenship. Learn more about parental management apps such as OurPact, ScreenTime and Net Nanny.

Tips to keep your kids safe on social media

The following are six tips from parenting experts to help you keep your tweens and teens safe on social media.

• Educate yourself about social media.

• Establish an age limit.

• Talk to your kids about the dangers and consequences of social media.

• Keep the computer in a common area of your home.

• Set guidelines or rules.

• Check your child’s privacy settings regularly.


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